I can always tell the mood of Sox fans by the angry texts Fifth Feather sends me. And as I’ve said, I’m only dabbling in Sox writing to annoy the piss out of him. But early in the season, he’s decided to get worked up about Eloy Jimenez. Certainly a 79 wRC+ or 83 DRC+, whichever nerd counter you prefer, is not what he or anyone had envisioned. And for Sox fans, wanting to make Cubs fans ache even more immediately is always a burning desire. Patience gets thinner when that’s an element.
More worrying is that Jimenez is making some pretty awful contact. Half of it has been on the ground, and only 13.8% of his contact has been hard. It would be one thing if he was unlucky and getting nipped and bitten by the BABIP Dragon. That is not the case so far.
It’s not hard to see what’s happening. Eloy is swinging a lot (50.6% of pitches, 45% is average), swinging a lot at pitches out of the zone 37%, average 29%) and not making contact a whole lot on any pitch (53% outside the zone, 66% overall, both well south of average). And it’s a classic combination that pitchers are using to attack him.
Here’s where Eloy is whiffing at fastballs:
And here’s where he’s whiffing on breaking balls:
His whiff percentages are pretty hideous when it comes to sliders and curves, and clearly he’s worried about being beat upstairs by heat that he’s going after everything that looks like it…until it ends up borrowing into the left-handed batters’ box. This is what happens to young hitters. You have to prove you can handle one before you stop seeing the other.
Most will tell you the way out of this is to just use the middle of the field and the opposite way. Give yourself time on the fastball and not be ahead of a breaking ball that way. And the past three games might be glimmers of hope. Monday, Jimenez singled twice up the middle, both on a fastball on a slider. Tuesday, Eloy’s first three ABs all ended in hard contact to either center or right, until he rolled over a single in the 8th. Yesterday saw another single to right.
It’s a process, but as he gets more comfortable I would think you would see louder and louder contact the other way, up the middle. And then he’ll start to swing it around the field, which is when the real fun starts.
-On the other side of town, as we lunge and bend to try and feel good about Yu Darvish starts, there’s been an alarming component of his last two.
Here’s a sample of what he was throwing in the first inning in his start in Atlanta:
Then in the fourth when he was pulled.
We see 93 and 94 turn into 92. Not a huge problem, but after only four innings of work somewhat curious. Let’s go to last night. Here’s Starling Marte‘s first AB:
94 and 95, almost 96 even. Now here’s the 5th, an inning before he was pulled:
91 and 92. That’s an even steeper drop-off. Joe Maddon told everyone after both games that he wanted to get Yu out while he could “feel good.” This ignores the fact that Yu is a living, breathing adult and probably knows exactly how he pitched. Yes, Yu is a thinker, and a quirky guy, and all the rest of it. But I would take some convincing that Joe didn’t see this drop in velocity each time.
Is he trying to burn it out in the early innings? Is he still building up arm-endurance from missing three-quarters of last year? Is the arm injury playing a role? Questions that don’t have answers yet.
Also, Yu is throwing that fastball far more than he has in years past, 47% of the time when for the past six years he’s pitched he’s kept that around 40%. We haven’t seen a sinker at all this season, which he used to throw 15-20% of the time. His curve really is his chocked back slider, but that has less effect when his fastball’s velocity keeps moving down to meet it as the game moves along.
It also seems that his first start has spooked him a bit, because the past two has seen him keep his breaking stuff in the zone a lot more. Which is fine to an extent, but to get whiffs your slider/curve needs to duck out of the zone eventually. His slider produced three whiffs on nine swings, his curve nary a one. Which is actually better than it was in Atlanta, where his slider only got three whiffs on 12 swings.
It’s another process, and I guess it’s trending in the right direction ever so subtly? But he’s going to have to find more gas in the fifth and sixth innings, or you would hope he does.